Jury Rules Against Goodyear in ’04 RV Crash
A Pasco County, Fla., Circuit Court jury Friday afternoon (June 25) returned a $5.6 million verdict against the Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. for selling a defective tire that had been marketed to recreational motorhome manufacturers, even though the tire was not suitable for RV use, according to a news release from the plaintiffs’ lawyer.
The tire, a Goodyear G159, was original equipment on a 2000 American Tradition motorhome that crashed on Aug. 11, 2004, seriously injuring the driver and two passengers. Driver John Schalmo was heading westbound on State Road 8 in Chipley, when the right-front tire of his motorhome suffered a catastrophic tread separation. Schalmo lost control of the RV and veered off the right side of the roadway, heading out of control across an exit ramp and into a line of trees.
Schalmo, and his wife’s parents William and Ruth McClintock, were seriously injured. William McClintock lost both legs as a result of the crash; he died of unrelated causes two years before the trial.
Attorneys Christopher Roberts and Hugh Smith, of Smith, Fuller & Roberts, a Tampa Bay firm specializing in tire litigation, presented evidence that Goodyear had marketed the G159 to the RV industry for nearly a decade in the 1990s and 2000s, even though Goodyear knew it was dangerous for those vehicles. The G159 was originally designed for urban delivery vehicles and speed-rated for only 65 mph continuous use. In 1998, Goodyear increased the speed rating to 75 mph, even though the tire design was prone to overheat on RVs that typically travel at those speeds for extended periods. The speed rating change allowed Goodyear to continue selling the tire to the RV market after speed limits increased nationwide.
Excessive heat in a tire will break down its internal components over time, and is a leading cause of tread belt detachment failures, as typified by the Schalmo crash. During the course of the trial, Roberts and Smith presented Goodyear documents including internal heat and speed testing and failure rate data that Roberts and Smith argued showed that Goodyear knew the G159 was improperly approved for 75 mph continuous highway use.
By 1999, there had been two recalls and one Product Service Bulletin to replace G159 tires on RVs, but the recalls blamed inadequate load margin and customer misuse, and did not identify the tire design itself as defective. Goodyear has consistently assured the public that the tires are safe for all uses. However, in a 2006 Fleet Owner magazine feature, a Goodyear marketing communications manager acknowledged that the G159 was a truck tire that had not been developed for RVs. That same year, Goodyear stopped selling the G159 and replaced it with a more robust tire specifically designed for motorhome use. But Goodyear has never recalled all of the G159 tires already sold, and tens of thousands or perhaps more remain in the field.
“RV tires encounter unique challenges in ordinary service, including heavy loading and extended operation at highway speeds,” said lead plaintiffs’ attorney Christopher Roberts. “In addition to Goodyear’s G159 problem other RV tires are underspecified, leading drivers to unknowingly overload them.”
The $5.6 million award represents one of the largest verdicts in Pasco County, and this was the first G159 tire case to be resolved in a public trial. Goodyear has reportedly settled as many as a dozen G159 tread separation cases involving serious injuries and deaths, in exchange for confidentiality. The Schalmo and McClintock families refused to agree to a confidential settlement, and have expressed their hope that Goodyear will recall the tire.
Circuit Court Judge Stanley Mills has given Goodyear 45 days to present arguments for sealing the confidential Goodyear materials shown to the jury. Continued confidentiality is unlikely under the Florida Sunshine in Litigation Act, which prohibits a court from sealing corporate documents that would conceal a public hazard.